Chris Beardshaw’s Chelsea 2012 design recreates
Furzey Gardens in the New Forest

November is not, it must be said, a glamorous month. So it was a bit of welcome light relief to be reminded today at the launch of the RHS Chelsea FlowerShow 2012 that there is such a thing as May and flower shows and summer.

Next year’s show looks like it’s going to be a vintage edition: it’s the 99thChelsea, and they still haven’t stopped coming up with new ways of shaking it all up a bit.
There are 18 full-sized show gardens, around 15 small gardens (though most have yet to be finalised), 107 exhibitors in the Great Pavilion, fencing, caravans, Formula One motorcars and a demilitarised zone.

So without further ado, here are the highlights for Chelsea 2012:

Show gardens:

The rollcall of designers for next year’s Chelsea reads like a who’s who of gardening.

Sarah Price, rarely out of the headlines these days what with her 1/2-mile long garden for the 2012 Olympics Park, is designing her first solo Main Avenue garden for the Daily Telegraph (she did a City Garden in 2007 which won a silver medal). Can’t wait to see her planting which is unfailingly dreamy.

Joe Swift is another first-timer, and long overdue, too: his design for Homebase has frames of cedar running through the garden on an angle, giving a double-framed view along and diagonally across the garden, with Prunus serrula and Cornus mas emphasising natural woodland-style planting.

Korean designer Jihae Hwang – memorable for winning best Artisan Garden with an exquisitely beautiful outdoor lavatory this year – is graduating to full show garden with a recreation of the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea; and Jo Thompson‘s first full-sized show garden has an Airstream caravan called Doris and a hammock: the ultimate staycation, and I can’t help thinking the place you’ll probably find most gardening hacks hanging out on press day (there are rumours of a fridge full of icecream and beer inside).
Andy Sturgeon’s design for show sponsors M&G – though I have to say this doesn’t remotely do it justice

Returning champions Andy Sturgeon and Cleve West are slugging it out for the honours: Andy has an exquisite sculpture of copper rings winding its way ‘like an energy wave’ through and around a central sunken pool (there are cleft rocks and monolithic walls involved); and Cleve is going for topiary in a big way. ‘It’s as good a time as any to let my sponsors know I’ve never done a formal garden before,’ he said, with questionable wisdom. But don’t worry: it’s promising to be vintage Cleve nonetheless, with abstract stone sculptures and lovely herbaceous planting to set off all that yew.

Chris Beardshaw is back recreating a Hampshire garden cultivated by adult learners, and there’s another welcome return from Arne Maynard, known and revered for his wonderfully sensitive, natural planting style, at Chelsea for the first time in 12 years.
Tom Hoblyn’s design: minimalism meets the Villa d’Este

Tom Hoblyn is planning a minimalist garden inspired by the Villa d’Este – which sounds like a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one – and Nigel Dunnett is moving from rain gardens to dry meadows in the Blue Water Garden. There’s also a sky-scraping sculptural tower from Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins, who seem to have cornered the market in superhumanly tall structures at Chelsea.

I would say something about the small gardens if I could, but there’s not much information out there at the moment: all I know is that there’s what they’re calling a ‘large artisan garden’ (oh please return to calling them courtyard gardens, I do hate that name) by Japanese master Ishihara Kazayuki, and it’ll be a recreation of a garden in Nagasaki 50 years ago. That alone is worth the trip to Ranelagh.

Great Pavilion:

The headline news here is that Edulis, my all-time favourite unusual edibles nursery, is at last making its debut at Chelsea. Be prepared to be wowed. Aeoniumlovers need look no further than the Trewidden exhibit: also first-timers and bringing their collection of tender succulents with them including several new home-bred varieties.

There will be fencing displays at Hillier Nurseries, who also get the prize for worst pun of the year with their exhibit title ‘Duel and the Crown’ (it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee… geddit?) And here’s a snippet for Chelsea trivia fans: did you know that Ranelagh Gardens was the venue for fencing tournaments right up until the Second World War?

Other things to look out for:
  • Fresh Gardens: It could only be a matter of time. Conceptual gardens have been stealing the show at Hampton Court for years; they dipped a toe (successfully, mostly) into Tatton under the ‘Visionary Gardens’ label and now Chelsea has taken the plunge and commissioned some of these most risky and challenging of gardens (and renamed the category, again).
  • Mind you, they’ve chosen a past master of the art in the unfailingly exciting and thought-provoking Tony Smith, whose ‘Green with…’ garden looks very odd (as all his do on plan) and is said to evoke the ‘human emotions of envy and desire’. The other one we were told about, ‘Places for People’ by Noel Farrer, looked frankly safe; though I’ll be ready to be surprised on the day.
  • Sir Harry Veitch:Victorian nurseryman extraordinaire, and the owner of a truly enviable beard, celebrated by Plant Heritage this year
  • Pot art: little plant pots are being painted even as I write by the great and the good in the world of gardening, to auction in aid of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.
  • Topiary: there is more. Not just Cleve’s, and I believe a bit in Arne Maynard’s, but a huge topiary sculpture in the Great Pavilion celebrating the Monaco Grand Prix, in the shape – you guessed it – of a Formula One racing car.

Roll on May, that’s all I can say. Can’t wait.